March 27, 2008, 12:00 AM

What’s the buzz?

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The fourth is relevance, determined through a text-mining tool that considers the placement of a keyword within a post as a whole and within paragraphs, and the frequency of mentions in the post. And the fifth is sentiment, measured via semantic analysis technology to determine if a post is positive, neutral or negative. Vendor analysts review the measurements in all five categories to ensure measurements are accurate. Clients typically pay between $500 and $1,000 a month for the service.

Important discoveries

Icon Estates has been using the Andiamo Systems service for nine months and has made some important discoveries about how consumers perceive its brands of wine.

For instance, Robert Mondavi is among its wineries and is well known. The fact that it is so well known actually has created a problem. And posts and comments in the blogosphere have shined light on the problem. “The service confirmed something we suspected: There are customers who get confused about Robert Mondavi wines,” Wood says. “Some people don’t understand there is a difference between a premium Mondavi wine and another Mondavi wine. They see the name Mondavi and it becomes very similar to them.”

As a result, Icon Estates is considering two actions. First, it may have to tweak its marketing messages. “Now we know there are consumers who, no matter how much you are telling your story a certain way, are not getting it that way,” Wood says. “This means our brand marketers may have to change the way we are telling the story to more successfully get it across.”

Second, it could approach bloggers and blog readers in a non-selling manner to inform and educate. “We can reach out to bloggers identified through the service who confuse such wines and communicate with them or post comments on their blogs,” Wood says. “Ultimately, these are members of the public who can influence others in a way that can impact your brand.”

Icon Estates has not yet taken any actions, saying it remains in a listening phase and will begin acting on blog monitoring findings later this year, after it better understands blog conversations and subsequently formulates strategies for reaching out to bloggers.

Be alert

There is, however, a way to monitor blogs that requires no investment. Google Alerts sends e-mails to Internet users when selected words or phrases show up on the Internet. A user creates a Google account by entering an e-mail address and selecting a password.

The user then enters a search term, such as a brand name; selects the type of search-blogs, news, web, video or comprehensive; and picks the frequency with which she would like to receive alerts-as it happens, once a day or once a week. And she can create as many alerts as she likes.

The difference between Google’s free alerts and blog monitoring services from vendors is that Google presents only links to pages that mention selected keywords. Google Alerts does not offer reporting, analysis or outreach services.

Pet supplies retailer Drs. Foster and Smith Inc. is one merchant that has opted to go with Google Alerts. And its blog monitoring program is just as informal as the Google Alerts service.

“Some of our employees have set up Google Alerts on our name and brands and if they see something about us they will look at it. But we have never had the need to act on anything,” says Gordon Magee, Internet marketing and analysis manager at Drs. Foster and Smith. “We get contacted by reputation monitoring services, but it is such an easy process today with something as simple as a Google Alert that pulls up articles and posts when your company is mentioned. That is all you need.”

Drs. Foster and Smith’s approach reflects Magee’s opinion about blogs’ role in retail. “In the end, the opinions of most bloggers are not really that important,” he contends.

Underwear buzz

Hanover Direct Inc., a catalog and web retailer, disagrees. Last month it launched a formal blog monitoring and analysis program with Attention PR. It did so because of a large amount of blog buzz it had been seeing on one of its six brands, Undergear.

One of the first blogs that drew Undergear’s attention was Underwear Guy is the nom de plume of Daniel Hazen, the man behind the blog, which provides readers with underwear news and reviews. While the blog discusses in great detail numerous brands of men’s undergarments, the fashion underwear, swimwear and workout-wear of Undergear has been getting a lot of mentions and favorable reviews.

“Bloggers are a voice of the community. They are people who use your products so much in daily life that they have become in essence brand and product specialists,” says Robin Baskin, vice president of e-commerce at Hanover Direct. “They are true evaluators, and members of online communities look to these mavens to do their homework for them. Plus, bloggers are not biased-you can’t trust a company itself because it, of course, has a bias, but an online community leader is writing for the good of the community.”

Eyes peeled

Attention PR has just begun providing Undergear weekly reports that show volume of conversation, sentiment and natural search performance as a result of blog posts. And Baskin can routinely examine Undergear’s performance in the blogosphere through a dashboard that coalesces information from Attention PR’s analytics and databases. As the program ramps up, Attention PR will conduct public relations campaigns for Undergear, which will include blogger outreach. Services typically cost between $10,000 and $20,000 monthly, Attention PR says. Costs are higher than other firms because Attention PR includes public relations activities.

“Through regular scorecards we’ll be able to see the number of blog conversations about Undergear, the number of blog links driving traffic to us, how posts and links are helping our search positioning, and more,” Baskin explains. “Blogs represent a lot of free press, and they can be a tremendous benefit to a retailer.”

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